The Great Indoors: a compliment beats any design


The project for The Great Indoors Education Program took 6 weeks. Each week on Tuesday my assistant Raya Stefanova and I as their mentor met with 4 Belgian and 4 Brazilian Interior Design students from the University Hasselt. Find extracts of the project on our Kiki’s Crisis Store Tumblr. On the first day we got to know each other and also met our client: Kiki Niesten, a self-made woman that runs two high-end fashion stores on Stokstraat, the most expensive street in Maastricht.


Kiki came to us and requested a crisis store. She already owns two stores, so she asked for something where no clothes are sold. The students asked her many questions about the choices she made for her store, what her retail strategy is and why she decided to open a 2nd store on the other side of the street. Eventually I remembered that I read an interview a while ago where she said that she always wanted to have a store on Stookstraat. Back than she was debating if it should be a cheese store or a fashion store. It certainly made all of us grin, because we thought it’s so far off. But Kiki explained that it technically is the same intention – it’s just a different product. She simply knew she wants to run her own business.


The team


It’s a challenge to sum up all thoughts and references we collected in the past 3 weeks. Discussions are a process that can’t be put in written words. However, the aspect that came up all the time is that people seek for comfort in crisis. How many of us have heard from our friends that they don’t have any money or don’t want to spend any? We instantly think that experiences have to cost something. But in fact simple things like a smile, a gesture, a warm space with a comfy couch and atmospheric lighting, a route that tells a story of past present and future, that maybe takes the crisis of you for a moment or the day is what everyone of us need from time to time. That’s why we decided that we want to offer something that the public can appreciate. We imagined that they come in and leave happier. At the end a shop is something for the public. It’s just that some concepts don’t invite you in.


So there was a request for a crisis shop and am additional theme that The Great Indoors issued. “The Nature of Things” made us think about retail systems that look like a design idea that was forced into a space no matter what the existing infrastructure already tells by itself. From the beginning Kiki’s Crisis Shop was aiming to enhance the existing structures of the 19 century location. For us it already radiated pride and confidence, like a civic monument. We immersed ourselves into the architecture and the colour theme, while thinking of the crisis, Kiki and her stores.


I would love to tell you that you have to go and see the experience shop yourself, but unfortunately it was made to exist just for 2 days: one day for the jury and the 2nd one for the public. Now I will guide you though the concept. I promised the students to make it exist longer.


In the entry Raya Stefanova and Annelies Putseys gave the visitors a bag with a floormap and a bar of soap – an object that refers to the ritual of purification and aims to remind the visitors of taking a min for themselves. The tiny red carpet is inviting the people from outside to the inside, but its size is reduced due to the crisis. We were playing with ironic, humorous elements here as well.


That’s the front of the floormap. It was important to the students that people feel welcome.


“At Kiki’s Crisis shop we offer experiences”. The back side explains all stations of the route. We made illustrations for all stations.


At the end of the red carpet Jolein Versmissen explained the choices you had to make: first to the Future Fashion Lab that drew a vision of the future of the fashion industry – a possible future of Kiki Niesten’s retail concept. Or to the changing room that let you walk through past and present while comforting you. Here we wanted to give more attention to the actual ‘changing room’ that is sometimes a forgotten aspect of a shop. You didn’t get the chance to change clothes on ours, but maybe change the state of your mind.


That’s how our retail experience started.


No cash desk because you won’t spend any money.


Production on request what happens at the Future Fashion Lab. “The 20th Century was about dozens of markets of millions of consumers. The 21st Century is about millions of markets of dozens of consumers” Joe Kraus, dotcom pioneer. Because consumers know what they want.


Once you entered the ‘changing room’ you had to wash your hands first. ‘Start with a clean slate’.


Picture from the work in progress: on the mantlepiece we positioned diverse graphics in frames that relate to the economic state in a crisis. Above the mantlepiece we hang up Kiki’s face mask that you have seen above. She told us that even if times can be hard, she has to buy more and more stock from the fashion brands. She literally has to put a mask on sometimes.


‘Compliments do not cost anything’. We positioned a short catwalk and headphones in front of the huge mirror. Visitors were invited to listen to the recordings while looking at themselves. A male and a female voice said: You look good today. 2 second break. You make me smile. 2 second break. And so on. We had the strongest reactions here. Thalita Oliveira said that a woman told her that she was having a horrible day in Maastricht but to hear the compliments made her day. It’s something so simple but she was really needing it and said that she found the whole exhibition very touching.


The story of Kiki Niesten: Cheese or high-branded clothes? We made an installation where visitors should sit in the couch, wondering why a big piece of cheese is in the fireplace and a jacket hanging on the ceiling. The clarification of fact was written on the ground, like a fairytale, explaining that Kiki choose to do a fashion store, even if the cheese was tempting.


That’s how Marianna Costa and Dries Gerinckx applied the sticker foil on the ground.


A blanket and a cookie is what we need if life is hard. A small labyrinth filled with fabrics and the smell of vanilla and musk was our idea of that.
Feathers were carrying the smell and the fabrics were surrounding the guests of Kiki’s Crisis Shop. A sensual pleasure.


View of the “Changing Room”


Before leaving the “Changing Room” you were offered a treat, a small piece of delicious nougat.


We wrote “Do not forget to treat yourself before you leave.”


In order to follow the tour, we sticked KIKI S CRISIS on the ground


From left to right. 2dn row: Tecio Martins, Thalita Oliveira, Marina Costa, Dries Gerinckx. 1st row: Raya Stefanova, Jannicke Smolders, me, Jolein Versmissen and Annelies Putseys.


That’s us together at the award ceremony. I asked the students afterwards how they perceived the public day. Mariana Costa said that we made something that “everybody could appreciate”. Tecio Martins mentioned that the most interesting thing he noticed was that “people who let themselves experience the space were all the time laughing and talkative”. “The public was very enthusiastic, they always had to smile. It was very beautiful, very clear for them”, was a comment from Annelies Putseys. “Design for people is very important to me. I mean, this is exactly what we do, this is exactly what we are studying to do. So, with this workshop, I think we all learned to come back to simple things and sometimes this is just what people need to feel happy and with all that I heard, I think we definitely made a very good job” Thalita added.


We didn’t win the desired ‘The Great Expectations Award’ of the education program but maybe Kiki’s Crisis Shop is the winner of the public. While I write that, I actually realise that considering the vote of the public would be a great addition to the program and an added educative value.

Comments are closed.